Sto-Rox board agrees to talk to Propel charter schools

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In an about-face, the Sto-Rox school board Thursday postponed its vote on a revised application from Propel charter schools to start a K-12 school in McKees Rocks and instead created a committee to explore how the district could work cooperatively with Propel.

Propel executive director Jeremy Resnick called the vote "courageous" and said it marked the first time a traditional public school district agreed to consider cooperating with his charter organization.

"We don't take it lightly that they made this decision to have these kinds of conversations," Mr. Resnick said.

Sto-Rox superintendent Michael Panza said of the development: "It's always good to talk. If we have questions, why not sit across the table and talk."

That sentiment is different from November, when the Sto-Rox board unanimously rejected Propel's application to start a school that would eventually serve 800 students in grades K-12 in McKees Rocks and in the months since district officials have spoken of how devastating the proposed Propel school would be to the district of about 1,400 students.

During the 2011-12 school year Sto-Rox paid $8,406 for each regular education student who attends a charter school and $19,848 for each special education student. Charter costs make up about 11 percent of the district's budget.

At the time the board rejected the initial application, Mr. Panza produced a lengthy document listing numerous reasons the charter should not be granted.

But at Thursday's meeting, solicitor Gregory Gleason recommended the formation of the committee and suggested it be composed of less than a quorum of the board, the superintendent and any other district officials the board chose to include along with Propel officials.

Mr. Gleason said Propel officials, through their lawyer, agreed to postpone the vote on the revised charter until Sept. 20. He said the two sides would discuss how they may be able to work together "for the betterment of the community."

Without any discussion, the board approved Mr. Gleason's recommendation with a 6-1 vote, with school director Joseph Vojtecky opposed and directors Jeanne Hughes and Brian Taylor absent.

About 50 people attended the meeting, many of them teachers. Union president Heather Johnston told the board that she wants to be part of the committee to ensure that teachers voices would be heard.

Mr. Gleason said neither the district nor Propel were giving up any rights by agreeing to form the committee and hold the discussions. If the two sides can't agree on a plan to work together, the board will vote on the charter proposal.

Propel has more than 2,000 students and operates K-8 schools known as Propel Homestead, Propel McKeesport, Propel East, Propel Montour, Propel North Side and Propel Pitcairn. It operates K-8 and 9-12 schools known as Propel Braddock Hills and a 9-12 Propel Andrew Street High School in Munhall.

While Propel North Side and Propel Pitcairn received charters from the Pittsburgh and Gateway school boards, the charters for the other Propel schools were rejected by the local boards and were awarded after appeals to the state Charter Appeals Board.

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Mary Niederberger:;412-263-1590.


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